The intersection of ecotourism and community-based tourism proves the ideal union for the rewards it reaps for the people and animals who call a place home.
A landmark rhino conservation project launched in 2022 at the edge of Zimbabwe’s largest national park is paving the way for protecting a species poached from here in the early 2000s. At the same time, it puts tourism dollars directly into the pockets of those living alongside wild animals. Late last June two white rhinos named Thuza and Kusasa wandered cautiously from the interior holding boma (enclosure) where they’d spent five weeks acclimating to explore the plains surrounding southeastern Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. It was a momentous occasion.
“For 20 years we haven’t had white rhino in this location,” said Mark Butcher, managing director, Imvelo Safari Lodges, a key partner in the Community Rhino Conservation Initiative, tasked with bringing rhinos back to the Hwange region. “They’re such an important part of the plains of southeast Hwange; it’s just fantastic to see.”
The CCRI represents the first instance in Zimbabwe of rhinos being translocated to community land, where they are cared for and protected by a community protection unit called COBRAS, composed of villagers from surrounding communities.
Guests staying at Imvelo’s Camelthorn Lodge, also located on community land belonging to the local village, Ngamo, can walk within yards of the majestic animals alongside the COBRAS. They will know funds raised by their visit benefit not only rhino conservation but improvements to the surrounding communities — from building boreholes for fresh water and providing lunches for local school children to improving village healthcare facilities.
“Community-based tourism is incredibly important, as local people not only benefit economically but also gain intangible benefits such as pride in their home and the power to make decisions that reflect their culture and their community,” said Casey Hanisko, president, Adventure Travel Trade Association.
Plans to expand the sanctuary and introduce more rhinos onto neighboring community land in 2023 will employ more men and women from the surrounding region. Locals in Ngamo village and its surrounds already feel the benefits of community-based tourism and the return of rhinos to the region. “I see a lot of development coming into my village,” said Vusa Ncube, 33, an Imvelo guide who never saw a rhino before becoming involved in the CCRI. “It’s a very, very big thing for us, a very special thing for me. Not only to see these animals back here but because my kids have better social services than what I had growing up.”
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